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FIRST-PERSON: Why I review films

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Recently a subscriber to my weekly film guide sent me a thoughtful letter. In it the lady relayed her daughter’s query, “Why is it OK for him to go to movies that are filled with all kinds of sexual situations, language and violence? How can a Christian man put himself in this environment?”

I love movies. I have been entertained, informed and enriched throughout my life by many a motion picture. That said, I am weary of viewing the negative or exploitive content that seems to permeate today’s films. Perhaps that’s because the nearer I draw to biblical precepts, the more abusive content and the humanistic views of filmmakers grieve my soul.

So why do I review films?

Most other art forms have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. Movies have only been with us for a hundred years. But during those hundred years the motion picture and television have become the dominant mediums for storytelling and for fashioning our cultural surroundings. A hundred years ago there was no need for my occupation. Today, there is.

Seventeen years ago I became aware that content was becoming as formidable as the artistic and technical merits of films. And if moviemakers had a right to place salacious or desensitizing content in their work, then moviegoers had a right to be warned. In other words, I sit through a lot of junk, so you won’t have to.

Missionaries, evangelists and pastors continue to subject themselves to a world dominated by spiritual decay because this is their way of glorifying the Father and serving mankind. While I hesitate to refer to myself as a minister, the bottom line of my work is to remind a generation inundated by media outlets that we need to guard against Satan’s lies when supporting Hollywood’s products.

How do I protect myself?

I have to put a lot of garbage in my head by watching so many films -– around 200 a year (I’ve cut back from nearly 300), but I believe God has given me this task as a calling. Along with spending free time with fellow believers, and praying for the Holy Spirit’s protection and guidance, I counter the clutter by spending time in God’s Word. To discern the media’s misconceptions and misdirections, we must be grounded in scriptural teaching. Those teachings are the armor we need to put on -– daily.

Do I adhere to Psalm 101?

In Ecclesiastes 3 we are told that there is a time to laugh and a time to dance. I believe that means entertainment is an elemental part of life. But the Preacher says in Psalm 101, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” On more than one occasion I have been instructed by the Holy Spirit to leave a film or turn off a video.

A prime example took place in 1991. After watching a guard beaten to death by Hannibal Lector in “Silence of the Lambs,” suddenly I was overcome with this sense that I was to leave –- and leave immediately. When those who praise the film say I should see the ending, I counter with, “You argue with the Holy Spirit.”

Certainly, I feel an obligation to sit through the movies I critique. So if I do exit early, which is seldom, I let my readers know the reason and assure them that I am only reviewing the film up until that moment. But, my utmost purpose is not to examine the artistic quality of a film, but to relay how it affected me spiritually.

Should you go to movies?

I can find no teaching in the Word denying us a time of entertainment, pleasure or rest. However, the Bible doesn’t apply to parts of our lives, but to the sum total — including how we entertain ourselves. I’ve often used the following quote from a now-obscure film, which I believe succinctly indicts the film community while serving as a warning to moviegoers: “Your head is like a gas tank. You have to be really careful about what you put in it, because it might just affect the whole system” (from the film “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing”).

Please pray for me (and my Christian colleagues in criticism) that the Holy Spirit will continue to protect us and give us discernment.
Phil Boatwright is a film reviewer and editor of The Movie Reporter, on the Web at www.moviereporter.com.

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